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Stop Making Proof of Concept Games

Mechanics are an important part of any game, but alone that's not enough.

Like many people in our gaming community, I recently purchased No Man's Sky on PS4. After watching a video recently, my excitement -- which was very low at the time -- rapidly increased. You can be a space pirate? Live on a planet the entire game? The possibilities seemed endless to me.

But what I found, was a game that wasn't what I wanted. That much is my fault -- with the marketing the game had, I felt this sense of extravagant exploration that isn't as prominent in the game. It feels more like a survival game, where you have to keep moving otherwise the game has nothing else to offer in one spot. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the game. But that's not what I'm getting at here.

Hello Games' No Man's Sky

On a technical level, No Man's Sky is a complex and intriguing piece of work. It does have a near endless universe -- most of which no one will ever see -- and the amount of visual variety is staggering at first. But that's all I got. Every planet has the same resources you need, and there's little to cause favor of one over the other when roaming space.

This brings me to my biggest problem with the game, is that it's not a game. Instead, it's proof that it's possible to create something of this scale on PS4, that an entire seamless universe can be created in just one game. It's still hard for me to grasp this concept as a game, since the actual game design isn't as impressive.

Superhot gameplay

No Man's Sky is certainly not the only offender of a "proof of concept" game. I recently played Superhot, a FPS puzzle game where time only moves when you do. It holds up to this promise. The game is exactly what it says it is. But in later levels it fails to give me this sense of solving a puzzle, or being good at shooters. I'm left with trial-and-error gameplay that sucks the style and flashy fun out of the game.

Even with some big level design frustrations in later levels, the game didn't stump me long enough to last longer than 3 hours. With those 3 hours you get a $25 price tag. It does have other modes, but none of them kept my interest for long.

A Story About My Uncle gameplay

But even going back further- A Story About My Uncle is a lighthearted tale about a kid going to find his uncle in a wondrous land by using a grappling hook for its crazy first-person platforming. The game's first 2 hours had me hooked, but then the last 45 minutes were infuriating. They add a new mechanic to the grapple's ability to keep you in the air, but the hit detection is so spotty that I was only guessing that the game would work when I got the moment of truth. $13, beaten in less than 3 hours, and the last third of the game wasn't working properly.

-- Length isn't the real matter here -- I'm not bashing short games, even though the prices here seem severely inflated. I'm just sick of games that have a foundation, but do not nearly enough with it. Superhot is such a brilliant concept -- it's the closest a game has ever come to making me feel like I was in The Matrix.

But it ends right when it feels like it should begin. I had learned all the mechanics, now I get to put them to the test for the rest of the game. But that's the end. A Story About My Uncle is the same. The game has such a fun fundamental mechanic, then fails to build upon it. 

A game that's a perfect example of one that extends beyond its mechanics would be Hyper Light Drifter. No, the game isn't perfect, but it does use its mechanics just the way they should. You learn how to use a gun for long ranged attacks, a sword for your main weapon, and a dash move that's imperative to your success. None of the ideas feel wasted or like afterthoughts, but they aren't what sell the game as a whole.

The presentation, the story, and the thrilling Zelda-esque exploration make for an extraordinary title. The fights can be grueling at times but they are fair because of the rock-solid foundation that is the combat mechanics. 

Games like No Man's Sky and Superhot aren't necessarily bad, but they feel like a rip-off to me, as if an early access game labeled as finished. I want a game's mechanics to not be the whole game- rather a gripping part of a better sum. Otherwise, I've just spent too much on much too little. 

Let me know what you think in the comments section, and thanks for reading.

Published Aug. 15th 2016

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